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Boys will be boys

Well, times are certainly different now with the state the world is in. The hustle and bustle is replaced by a calming serenity that has become our new reality. Many look to this as a time to reflect or learn or just appreciate life and all we have. Some turn to nature for solace, even more so than in the past. So maybe, with your indulgence, I can share a few insights into what’s happening out their right now with natural creatures. I love this time of year because everything is awakening and starting afresh, plants and animals alike. The reasons are clear for the most part. The long winter has passed, and life needs to get on with it. Plants need to grow, set seeds, and propagate. Insects need to emerge and complete their development to adulthood or pick up where they left off last year. But for the larger animals, it’s all about reproduction. Singing and courting are rampant. But have you noticed a lot of chasing going on? What’s that all about? Males of all species of birds start displaying as soon as they return from their winter homes. The impetus to sing is primarily linked to day length, so as the earth slowly rotates and the sun shifts northward, their songs start and intensifies as the season progresses. But coupled with this is an urge to drive other birds of the same species away. The strongest males spend a great deal of time chasing weaker ones. Why bother if you’re stronger? Well, if you let your guard down, a lower status male may sneak in and mate with a prime female. The better the genes, the better the likelihood that the species will remain genetically strong, so it makes sense to expend effort to drive off weaker males. We see this not only in birds but also in mammals. The other day I watched a black squirrel chasing two other squirrels. He chased one across the yard and back again until the interloper was driven off. As quickly as the conflict arose it diminished, and the two fed side by side. Why did the dominant male now tolerate the weaker one? Likely it was about food. If you’re going to stay strong, you must eat, so rivalries are forgotten briefly as they feed. The same dominant male then chased another squirrel, but this time his intentions were clearly different. He rushed at her, then veered away and approached from behind and he checked out to see if she was receptive. After a few more attempts to attract her, he rushed in and mated with her silent consent. In birds, the chases can be very aggressive and even can cause injury. Often at this time of year, two rival males will at one moment be feeding peacefully on the lawn and the next locked in a savage battle. Several times this week, I have watched two male robins suddenly face-off, uttering threatening calls and then flying skyward with wings and feet intertwined, where the two birds seemed joined together. When they eventually landed, the fight ended abruptly, but one of the two seemed more subdued. The outcome to the robins was clear. The dominant male showed the subordinate one who was boss. The male robins often then will briefly attack a female nearby. This is puzzling as it seems he should welcome her. Perhaps it simply is that the hormones are so high he just needs to show his strength by dominating anything nearby? He then quickly resumes his gentler approach to the local females in the hopes of securing a mate! So here we see various stimuli at play. If the goal of the chase is to mate, the chase is often short-lived and controlled by the female. When she’s ready, if she’s ready, they will mate. Chases involving males are always about territory and making sure that whatever estrous female wanders by will be available only to the dominant male. There’s so much to see out there. Now you have the time! Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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